Chris Bergson’s soul, imagination star in ‘Bitter Midnight’

Ahron R. Foster

Chris Bergson gives blues a shot in the arm with “Bitter Midnight.”
Photo by Ahron R. Foster

Can Brooklyn be defined in terms of a roots and blues sound? You bet it can be. The Chris Bergson Band’s “Bitter Midnight” proves it all album long with its funky, gritty, soulful and city-chic feel.

All that, and there’s a completely natural flow from one song to the next. Best of all, the gently affable Bergson is a powerful performer who writes great songs. They’re full of imaginative, descriptive ideas, fine melody, and the kind of variety that speaks easily to a long and wide audience. His songs sure as heck grow on you. Right off, in “Pedal Tones,” the rubbery hook, sharpened by squawking pedal tones, sinks in like honey in a meat grinder.

Lyrics reveal boundless imagination, and the music exposes a gathering of expert musicians. Bergson himself is a no-B.S., exciting guitarist with excellent tone, and a singer with just the right amount of grit in his delivery. The players are a tight bunch with alternating bassists (including Andy Hess, ex-Gov’t Mule), plus one heck of a guest in friend and frequent stage mate, Ellis Hooks. What a soul singer Hooks is, proving that point on his duet with Bergson on their lush, brass-infused title song; a blues so simple, but unquestionably potent all the same.

Another duet on the rollicking, “troubles and stress” song, “Knuckles & Bones,” shows a pattern — that this album’s full of nothing but highlights, and plenty of soul. That soul comes to the fore most notably in the lovely “Just Before the Storm,” as sweet a “leavin’ me” song as can be, and in “Lullaby,” an absolutely gorgeous love ballad. For some down and dirty jamming, check “Explode or Contain.” To get your foot tapping relentlessly, go to “520,” a train song rocker like no other.

“Bitter Midnight” is the kind of shot in the arm the blues genre consistently needs. It certainly ought to add much to Bergson’s stature. Brooklyn, New York, and the Chris Bergson Band — the iconic place, and its ideal musical ambassadors.

-Tom Clarke

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About Tom Clarke

From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 20 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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